Faces of Faith: ‘Clean the slate’ Jewish holiday starting
For Jews, another year has gone by.
Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New year, begins at sundown on September 13.
Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, starts at sundown on September 22. The intervening ten Days of Awe are a time for introspection and atonement, as we attempt to “clean the slate” from the past year’s transgressions and set things right as we enter this next year to come.
On Rosh HaShanah, we begin the Jewish year of 5776.
On Yom Kippur, it is a traditional custom to dress completely in white. White, of course, is the color that symbolizes the purity we seek through repentance.
But it is also a color that reminds us of the traditional Jewish burial shroud, a plain white tunic. There is, then, a kind of dying to our sins and the year past that occurs on this solemn, sacred day. We hope that through our intense efforts of repentance setting right our misdeeds against God and other people we will be reborn, transformed, into the new year.
There is a famous rabbinic teaching that one should repent one day before his/her death.
The obvious question, of course, is “How is it possible to know that day?” Surely, we don’t know, in advance, the exact day of our death. “Aha!” concludes the teaching, since we can’t know the day of our death, each and every day is the proper day on which to make amends, set things right, and be certain that no transgression is left unattended.
That way, when death and its final judgement arrive, the Ultimate Judge will find us ready.
We Jews have something of a “dress rehearsal,” for that day of death’s judgement, every year on Yom Kippur. How lucky are we? A day of sacred reminder to “beat the rush” and make things right while we are still alive to enjoy the wonderful consequences of that transformative experience of forgiving and being forgiven.
Surely, that’s a lesson for us all Jew and non-Jew alike. May our sins those inevitable misdeeds of day-to-day living be fully and quickly set right, each and every day. May we all succeed at that sacred task.
-Rabbi Myra Soifer, Temple Bat Yam.